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  • Writer's pictureTrevor Greenway

Hills’ new top cop says mental health a priority

The Hills’ new police chief said he is concerned about how many mental health cases his officers are responding to, and if the numbers keep rising, the MRC des Collines could see more than 300 cases of people in mental distress by the year’s end.

According to newly-minted MRC Police Chief Martial Mallette, police in the Hills have responded to 154 mental health cases since June 30, and he said he expects that number to rise.

“Every day, we receive a call for mental health. Every day,” said Mallette in a sit-down interview with the Low Down. “Maybe two or three, and sometimes I’ve seen five calls for mental health [a day]. And these are long calls. The officer stays two or three hours because they talk with the person, find a place for them to go, and maybe call an ambulance. We have no choice but to take that time. And this problem is every day.”

Mallette said, while police have seen this pattern since pre-pandemic times, he feels the restrictions and the general upheaval of life from COVID didn’t help. He said he knew of these problems when he worked as a police officer for 25 years in Montreal, but he was surprised to see similar issues in the Hills, primarily because of the landscape and the affluence of most Hills families.

“It’s so beautiful here, the socio-economic situation for a lot of people, it’s good. But it’s the same problem here,” he said.

Projections indicate that police will respond to more than 300 cases of mental distress this year, but those stats don’t reflect how big the problem truly is, according to MRC des Collines Police executive secretary Pascale Saint-Pierre-Demers.

“We receive much more calls, but they are never – or rarely – labelled as domestic violence or mental health issues,” he said. “Oftentimes, it starts with a call for assault, sexual assault, family dispute, suicide attempt, etc. It’s only when the case is analyzed by a police officer and lieutenant that the label might change, and we might consider them under domestic violence or mental health cases.”

According to Statistics Canada, one in four Canadians aged 18 and older screened positive for depression, anxiety or posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms in spring 2021. The number represents a total of 25 per cent of Canadians, which is up from one in five (21 per cent) in the fall of 2020.

Mallette said he knows there is no quick fix for this Canada-wide problem, but he pointed to the success the force has been having with its Maintenant Ensemble program, in which social workers accompany police officers on domestic assault cases. The first year of that program saw the police force support more than 95 victims of domestic violence cases. Police said they followed up on more than 530 cases of domestic violence, where social workers from the Libère-Elles women’s shelter helped victims get support.

According to Mallette, domestic violence is one of the biggest problems in the Hills, as the force has already responded to 95 domestic abuse calls as of September this year. That’s already well above the previous five-year high of 125 domestic violence cases in 2020.

Mallette called on the public to do their part.

“When you see something wrong, if you think it’s a bad situation, you need to call us,” he said. “Because this is not a crime that is happening on the street; it’s inside the house. You can’t see it.”

Mallette said the benefits of working alongside social workers from the Libère-Elles women’s shelter is having a similar impact on distress calls, when officers answer calls with mental health experts.

“We have a team. We have a social worker, and we have a police officer who work together, and I think that’s the way to deal with the mental health problem.”

Drunk driving a big problem in the Hills

While he has only been on the job for four months, it hasn’t taken the 26-year-old Montreal Police veteran long to figure out that one of the biggest problems is drunk driving.

Police have caught 63 drunk drivers this year (as of Sept. 23). If numbers remain steady, this year will be very similar to last year’s stats, which saw cops nab 83 drunk drivers on Hills roads.

Mallette wondered if cottage country plays a role in the DUI numbers, but when he was told by this newspaper that there are no taxis in the Hills, he understood just how big the problem is.

“This is the first time I’ve heard this, but I think it’s true,” said Mallette. “You have more difficulty getting another way to get home.”

DUIs have dropped during the pandemic in the Hills, with police reporting 86 in 2020 and 83 in 2021, compared to 123 in 2019.

Part of why Mallette chose the MRC des Collines as his next career move was because the region has a good reputation and a low crime rate compared to the province and the country.

The crime rate in the MRC des Collines is 22.66 incidents per 1,000 people. The Quebec average is 30 incidents, while the Canada-wide crime rate is 53 incidents per 1,000 people.

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